Task Force to Examine Suicide-Prevention Programs
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 4, 2009 A Defense Department-sponsored task force will examine the military’s suicide-prevention programs to ascertain what works and what doesn’t, a senior health official said yesterday.
The military services provide a plethora of programs designed to help servicemembers and families cope with the stresses associated with wartime conflict and overseas deployments, said Mark Bates, clinical psychologist and interim director for the resilience and prevention directorate at the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury.
The congressionally directed task force was established recently to provide the department “the best level of guidance on how to improve our suicide-prevention programs,” Bates told reporters from American Forces Press Service and the Pentagon Channel.
The task force’s 14 members were selected to represent a cross-section of military and civilian experts in policy, research, and clinical practices for suicide prevention, Bates said. Panel members, he added, will work closely with the services.
“Some of the ways that they’ll go about recommending how we can improve our suicide-prevention practices would be looking at causal factors, looking at ways to enhance the programs and services that are in existence, and also looking at how we manage our data and how we protect the confidentiality of that data,” he said.
The task force will work closely with the services’ suicide-prevention program managers, Bates said, as well as the department’s suicide-prevention and risk-reduction committee, which has representation from all four services and the reserve components.
The task force, Bates said, will report to the Defense Health Board, which reports directly to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.
The task force is to present its findings and recommendations within 12 months. Following review by the secretary, the task force’s report and recommendations will be sent to Congress.
The names and biographies of the task force members are available on the Military Health Care Web site at http://www.health.mil/dhb/subcommittees-tfpsmaf.cfm. The members are slated to gather in Bethesda, Md., in early October for their first meeting.
The department provides a number of comprehensive and proactive suicide-prevention programs that promote resilience, facilitate recovery and promote reintegration, Bates said.
“We have extensive efforts under way, and this is on top of the high level of interest that the military has had for a long time in suicide prevention,” he said. Servicemembers and families can obtain help by calling the around-the-clock Military OneSource (1-800-342-9647) and Centers of Excellence Outreach Center (1-866-966-1020) hotlines, or by accessing their Web sites. Servicemembers overseas should refer to the Military OneSource Web site for dialing instructions for their specific location.
“We want to increase access by providing a resource like this; it’s very easy to get into,” Bates said. The outreach center, he said, also is linked up with the Real Warriors Campaign, and features articles about servicemembers who have sought medical help in successfully confronting thoughts of suicide and in treating other mental-health issues.
The military wants troubled servicemembers to realize that there is no shame or stigma in seeking medical help for suicidal thoughts, post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury= and other issues.
“Probably one of the best ways of combating stigma,” Bates said, “is to have peers talk about their experiences with the same issue.”